Your brand’s story is not your canned elevator speech. Think of it as your ‘why.’ ” ~ Renée A. Walker
You may already know a few things about me and RAW BRANDED™, but if you’d like to take a deeper dive into my brand, pull up a chair and grab your popcorn. Relax. Read. Relate. Release. I’m going to share with you my story, my brand … First things first. Let’s talk about storytelling.
Your Brand’s Story
Stories have been embraced by every culture and go back to ancient times, when gestures and painted symbols in caves were used to connect with others. Today, your story remains the connective force of engagement with your audience. It not only highlights who are you and what you value, but it also can be used to establish trust, which is imperative for your brand’s success. This is not your canned elevator speech. Rather, think of it as your “why.” Why does your business exist? Why do you do what you do? Your story highlights your passion for your work and why your audience needs to believe in your brand’s promise. It should be succinct but can be in long form, depending on its use.
Caution! If you are not defining yourself and your brand, others will define it for you! Why? Because of the “Rashomon effect,” a term coined by journalist and scholar Valerie Alia. In a nutshell, any two people may have completely different views of a situation because our perceptions are subjective. If you apply this notion to people and brands, you’ll notice that people have different views of the same product, people, or service. Now imagine if no one knows anything about you or your brand’s story. Your audience will be left solely to their own assumptions based on your brand name, hearsay, and any other randomness. A total fail!
Case in point: the animated film, Hoodwinked!, in which the story of Little Red Riding Hood is humorously told by each of the fairytale characters, with each person recollecting distinct versions of the same occurrence. Another example is the movie, Gone Girl, in which a woman’s disappearance is recounted differently by the missing woman versus her husband.
Still with me? Bottom line. Don’t let others narrate your tale. If you don’t tell your brand’s story, others will do it for you. Now, without further ado, let me share my story from my lens … the CliffsNotes version!
First and foremost, I was actually born “RAW,” aka Renée A. Walker. 😉 I was born in the Caribbean and moved to New York with my family at the age of three. Blame it on the weather or the alignment of the stars, but for some reason, being in a new environment caused me to stop talking. In hindsight I don’t recall being silent, but I do remember studying people and their interactions. According to my parents, my personality also changed. I went from being a potentially extroverted, rough and tumble little girl to an introvert. Please, oh, please don’t confuse this with shyness! For us introverts, we need to collect our thoughts and self reflect as a way to manifest our full potential and navigate the world. We’re most likely the type to look before we leap. For more on this, read The Introvert Advantage: How To Thrive In An Extroverted World by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. and check out my review on my YouTube channel!
I digress, but back to the story. I eventually grew out of my selective mutism, as it’s been called. This was aided by my 2nd grade teacher, who introduced our class to writing and crafting homemade books. I fell in love with writing and illustrating novels and later spent marathon sessions writing upwards of 300 pages. In my head, I rivaled my beloved Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins books. I used writing to address issues that I was far too young to actually understand and to tell fictional stories. Fun fact: I still possess my first books!
Lesson From My Life Toolkit: Showcase your passion and strengths through storytelling.
Just as I was getting over one milestone, I quickly faced another. Where my second grade teacher sparked my creativity, my third grade teacher shook my confidence. She who will not be named (for you Harry Potter fans), would spiral around the classroom and fire off questions. If a student didn’t know the answer, she would look at the student in seeming annoyance, and move on to the next student. Apparently, this teaching style didn’t work with me because I simply could not learn. Nothing in school was sinking in, and my anxiety skyrocketed. My amazing mother would try to help me with my homework, but this had little effect. She quickly pulled me out from that school and sent me to an academically rigorous school. Suddenly everything clicked. The lights went on, and I was able to learn.
What made the difference? In hindsight, I understand that it was my shifted exposure from the traditional “banking model” of teaching to a “problem-posing” pedagogy. My intimidating third grade teacher treated students as if they were banks to deposit knowledge into. In contrast, my second grade and new, third grade teachers demonstrated that they cared and empowered me to learn, as with the “problem-posing” method. They unlocked my full potential, and I moved onto advanced classes.
Growing up, my family believed that I would become a teacher, since I come from a family of teachers—on both sides! Of course, I naturally rebelled against this. I was going to become a writer and artist. I was going to be like the author in Misery, minus Kathy Bates’ stalking, or the author in She Devil, minus the meanness and Roseanne Barr’s revenge. However, I wanted to make my family proud and move beyond our humble beginnings, especially as minorities. I entered a few artist fairs and competitions, but I couldn’t become a starving artist. This was not an option that I thought could pay the bills. Instead of focusing on all that jazz, I planned on getting into college.
I studied hard and fortunately got accepted into a few schools that I couldn’t afford before deciding to attend Rutgers University for my undergraduate studies. Thanks to a guest speaker in my college class, who was a director of communications within the military, I realized that I could merge my love of art, writing, and marketing by studying communications. I soon paired this with studies in psychology. After several internships (MTV’s research and development, Cablevision’s advertising, and Rutgers’ public relations), I ended up working full time within the education field at leading U.S. institutions. Funny how life does that!
Now how did I end up teaching? It just so happened that after earning a master’s degree in strategic communications at Columbia University, I ended up working there. My colleagues were seeking a marketing expert to teach New York City’s minority-, women-, and locally-owned (MWL) business owners. I was asked to teach. I knew my craft but understood that teaching was another ballgame. I accepted the opportunity, and to my surprise, really enjoyed it. I was empowered to create my curriculum and formed a mentoring relationship with the MWL business owners who took my class. Together, we worked on answering the “why” regarding their business and identified their stories. The aha moments were magical. I was luckily able to replicate this again within Columbia’s master’s program in construction administration and at Rutgers, where I taught union leaders across the State of New Jersey how to strategically organize, connect with supporters, and enact change through social media.
Throughout the years, I began to notice that something was missing—my brand! I was always the one who was holding the camera and telling other people’s stories. However, I was missing from the picture, literally! People needed to know who I was, and I needed to do a better job of telling my own story, the hardest story for me to share. Instead of just rattling off my experiences, I needed a way to define my personal brand and help others to do the same.
In an effort to walk the talk, I founded RAW BRANDED™ LLC. Through RAW BRANDED™, I am doing all the branding, marketing, and communications that I’ve taught other people and small businesses to do, starting from ground zero. My goal is to connect with fellow introverts and creative business owners with a passion and purpose and help them to find their voice and tell their story using marketing and communications techniques. Best of all, I am drawing from all the tools that I’ve discovered and placed in my life toolkit—how to teach effectively, tell a wicked story, and make your mark.
Still chomping on your popcorn? Stick around my website, as I will continue to share marketing tips and tricks while building my authentic brand—RAW BRANDED™. Let’s continue the conversation below or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram @reneewalkerraw.
© 2015 – 2017, Renee A. Walker. All rights reserved.